Addictions and Art

By Oreskovic, Anto; Bodor, Davor | Alcoholism, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Addictions and Art


Oreskovic, Anto, Bodor, Davor, Alcoholism


INTRODUCTION

Although the problem of addictions among artistic circles is well known, there are insufficient studies in which authors tried to investigate their influence and role in the artist's life. Doubt is often raised whether substance abuse was necessary in order to accomplish a creative potential, or substance abuse prevented the full expansion of artistic talent. Wider social environment's stereotypical perception is very often forgotten, and it often considers writers or artists' experiences with psychoactive substances as completely normal socializing experiences and latent or obvious attempts of artists to fit into such social expectations. Furthermore, a broader social stereotype implies that alcohol itself provides artists with inspiration. Some aspects, such as Iatent mental health issues in artists, related self-medication and anxiety connected with creative processes are pushed aside.

Why artists use psychoactive substances?

Pathographies of many famous writers, composers and painters contain descriptions of the devastating effects of substance abuse on their life journey (E. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald...).8-10 Most papers explored the prevalence of alcoholism among artists and writers, such is the survey conducted by Nancy J. Andreasen where 30 % of writers suffered from alcoholism. When talking about the prevalence of addiction in art circles, there are studies which undoubtedly concluded that writers and actors are more susceptive to substance abuse than mathematicians or physicists.

There are many possible reasons why artists are considered to be much more affected by the substance abuse problems than general population. Jane Piirto, Ph. D., director of Talent Development Education at Ashland University notes in her article »The creative process in Poets«1 that the altered mental state brought by substances has been thought to enhance creativity to a certain extent.

Polish psychiatrist Dabrowski and psychologist Michael Oiechowski used the term of »emotional over-excitability«2 describing the influences of external stimuli on individual's nervous system and the capacity to feel and notice the same. Those with less sensitive nervous systems are better adapted to our more crowded living conditions. The more sensitive ones can only attempt to ease their discomfort by blunting their perceptions with alcohol or depressive drugs or, alternatively, by using conscience-altering drugs to transport their senses from the dysphoric world in which they live to private worlds of their own.

A concept related to excitability is »CNS augmenters«3 who have central nervous systems which augment or enhance the impact of sensory input, so being an augmenter is linked to substance abuse.

Freudian psychology implied that creativity is a sublimation of aggressive and sexual impulses or a response to emotional pain. A domineering, cold mother or any kind of unhappy childhood, according to this view, causes neurosis and anxiety. Proponents of this view point out that those same anxieties would cause alcoholism in writers and other artists.

It is very significant to point out the problem of latent mental health issues in artists and related self-medication. A study4 that included 291 world famous artists showed that only visual artists and creative writers were characterized, in comparison with the general population, by a much higher prevalence of pathological personality traits, and furthermore, depressive disorders afflicted writers almost twice as often as men with other creative achievements. In his later study of one hundred American and British writers, Post5 confirmed higher prevalence of affective conditions and alcoholism in this population. He developed a hypothesis which links greater frequency of affective disorders and alcoholism in playwrights and prose writers, in comparison to poets, to differences in the nature and intensity of their emotional imagination.

Contrary to the concept prevailing in the first part of the 20th century of the strong association between schizophrenia and creativity, the results of empirical research now unambiguously suggest that prominent social and artistic creativity is associated primarily with affective, and more specifically with bipolar affective illnesses. …

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